A nearly $6 million freight ramp and cargo storage project received a $4.7 million boost from the state Tuesday when Gov. Ted Kulongoski awarded the Medford airport a ConnectOregon II grant.

A nearly $6 million freight ramp and cargo storage project received a $4.7 million boost from the state Tuesday when Gov. Ted Kulongoski awarded the Medford airport a ConnectOregon II grant.

Kulongoski said moving freight was critical to increasing activity in the so-called traded sector, where goods are produced here and sold outside the area.

"Investing in our transportation system is essential to our economic vitality," said the governor, who was flanked by transportation and government officials on a new cargo apron constructed with ConnectOregon I funds. "Big or small, freight must move quickly."

A total of 78 projects seeking $215 million were submitted for the grants, with 30 gaining approval by the Legislature last week.

"Obviously, this was one of the worthiest," Kulongoski said.

Medford's entry was one of 10 aviation projects receiving funding along with 13 rail, five transit and two marine proposals.

"We have cargo facilities scattered all over the airport right now, and from a security standpoint it will be good to have it all in one place," airport Director Bern Case said.

Among the anticipated benefits are reduced import and export costs, increased tax revenue, on-site freight sorting for quicker turnaround times and removing truck traffic from the airport apron.

Kulongoski said the Medford project's public/private collaboration exemplified what it will take to maintain and revitalize the state's transportation infrastructure. Without it, the state would become more congested as its transportation crumbled, he said.

"It would slow economic growth and diminish expectations," the governor said, resulting in businesses taking their investments elsewhere.

Carl Artner of Sky Air Cargo has signed a 50-year lease with Jackson County on airport property next to the FedEx building on the southwest end of the airport. Artner, 57, will build two 20,000-square-foot warehouses where freight companies can handle cargo.

"We owned other properties around the airport and were looking for another property next to the airport," Artner said.

While proposing a property trade to make his lots more useful, he was given another option.

"We heard about the cargo apron and it seemed like the right fit," he said.

Design work will be submitted this fall and winter and completion of the project is expected next year, said Artner, who has yet to sign a freight shipper.

"I'm talking with one freight-forwarder right now and have been talking with all the big ones," he said. "But there is nothing really positive right now."

Case said one advantage the airport had in this round was that it had carried out its earlier proposal.

"Some took ConnectOregon I money and still haven't finished their project," Case said. "The governor likes it when he stands on projects that are complete."

The list was pared to 70 projects before serious consideration began, said Teddie Baker, freight planner for the Oregon Department of Transportation.

"Some of the projects had problems we could see right from the very beginning," she said. "The second round (of ConnectOregon) was a much more structured process and projects were reviewed looking at the same types of information. In the first round there were lots of descriptive applications with blue-sky projections of how areas would benefit."

In other projects, Burlington Northern was awarded $5.2 million to help improve a heavily congested rail system. Coos County Airport District got $624,000 for the construction of the first air traffic control tower at the Southwest Oregon Regional Airport.

ConnectOregon, created in 2005, provides funding through lottery-backed bonds and leverages partnerships to nonhighway transportation projects statewide in conjunction with cities, counties, planning organizations and other jurisdictions and businesses.

The 2007 Legislature approved ConnectOregon II and Kulongoski is already looking forward to ConnectOregon III.

"Strategic organization of our entire transportation system is key to a steady economy," he said.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.